His phone wallpaper photo is a pic of his ex

Season 3 of the Love Letters podcast launches today. The theme is: How do you know? Episode 1 tells the story of two musicians. It also takes us to Scotland. Enjoy. And send letters.

Hi Meredith!

I've been dating this man for about nine months, and he is eight years my senior. When we first started talking, he mentioned that he practices polyamory. His version of that lifestyle is to "love multiple people, friends, exes, etc., without having sex with them." I have not had relationships that way, but I've tried my best to understand and learn, and I have to admit it's been quite rocky. He openly communicates with his ex (side note, she lives in another state), but when she visits, she stays at his place. I want to trust that they aren't having sex, but every time I reach my limit and try cutting things off with him for good, he tries to patch up our issues and resolves to make it work.

Most recently, one of our issues was him changing his phone wallpaper – the background – to a photo of his ex. When I discovered this, I ended up breaking down in front of him. I told him I felt like I was wasting my time and he said he didn't feel that way. He gave me the spiel about how he loves me and also loves his ex, and that he can't "pick" one. He not only didn't know how to comfort me, but he genuinely didn't see it as a problem, nor did he "realize" he changed the phone photo in the first place. At this point, I'm just fed up with the amount of emotional labor, time, effort, and communication I've put into this. Meredith, what's your advice on ending this without letting him back in?

– Fed up

Polyamory works for a lot of people, but it has to involve the consent of everyone involved. You did your best to be open to this man's lifestyle, but it doesn't work for you. For the record, it doesn't sound like polyamory at all. He's said – very clearly – that he can’t choose between you and his ex. That is an entirely different thing.

Breaking up with him – and staying broken up – is on you. I know it's hard to maintain a breakup when someone tells you everything you want to hear when you're trying to walk away, but you do have it in you to make a final decision. You can explain that you're not cut out for his relationship style. You can wish him the best and let him know you tried. You can also tell him the terms of the breakup – that you won't be accepting messages or signing up for platonic hangouts. You need a real boundary, and you'd like him to respect it.

Sometimes it helps to tell the other person that if they have thoughts about a breakup, they can put it in writing – in an email, specifically. It might force the person to think about what they really have to say. It might prevent 1,000 texts that are more about immediate feelings than real wants and needs.

It's always nice and respectful to break up with someone in person, but please know it's not always possible. You might find that you're better off talking on the phone and switching to writing for all conversations. It might make it easier to end the conversation.

– Meredith

Readers? How do you end it with someone who's good at coming up with reasons to stick around?